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Thursday, April 30, 2009

The stolen Black Hills and the fight to give them back

Aberdeen newspapers have a tradition of espousing racism, genocide, and the hate-propaganda necessary to inculcate them. A few days after Sitting Bull was shot on December 15, 1890, L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz, wrote this editorial in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer:

"He was an Indian with a white man's spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his. In his day he saw his son and his tribe gradually driven from their possessions: forced to give up their old hunting grounds and espouse the hard working and uncongenial avocations of the whites. And these, his conquerors, were marked in their dealings with his people by selfishness, falsehood and treachery. What wonder that his wild nature, untamed by years of subjection, should still revolt? What wonder that a fiery rage still burned within his breast and that he should seek every opportunity of obtaining vengeance upon his natural enemies.

"The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.

"We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America."

A few weeks later, after the Wounded Knee Massacre, Baum followed up with this January 3, 1891, editorial:

"The peculiar policy of the government in employing so weak and vacillating a person as General Miles to look after the uneasy Indians, has resulted in a terrible loss of blood to our soldiers, and a battle which, at best, is a disgrace to the war department. There has been plenty of time for prompt and decisive measures, the employment of which would have prevented this disaster.

"The PIONEER has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past."

The Treaty of 1868 recognized that all the land of what is now West River, South Dakota, belonged to the Sioux nations. When gold prospectors came into the Black Hills, the Sioux resisted. But the U.S. government allowed prospectors and the hordes that followed them to encroach on the land. A 1980 Supreme Court decision declared that the lands were taken in violation of treaties and the Sioux people should be compensated. However, they did not want to be compensated. They wanted their land back. They have refused to take the $900 million offered as compensation, and it has been held in trust. Now a law suit has been initiated which would force the government to disperse the money, but tribal leaders still do not want to take it. To take it would be a final submission to the racist annihilation of a culture as proposed by L. Frank Baum and would deprive the Sioux of sacred lands that are the center of their spirituality.

Now comes the Aberdeen American News (April 28, 2009) with a revival of Baum's proposal to compound a wrong with one more wrong. The American News claims the battle for the Hills has been won by the forces of civilization, and if the Sioux know what's good for them, they damned well better take the money:

The Sioux are not going to get the Black Hills back.

Yes, the United States government gave the Black Hills to the Sioux in the 1800s, and then when gold was discovered there, it took the land back.***

That was wrong.

But, we repeat: The government isn't going to give the land back to the tribes today. And it's time to accept that fact.

Perhaps those who are still fighting for the return of the land are scared to let go of what has evolved into an identity for generations of Native Americans. But the land isn't going to be returned. The $900 million could mean a much better life for future generations.

It's time to take the money and put it to good use.

The statement that the "government isn't going to give the land back" is uttered in a posturing bravado. There are ways that it could be done. In 1980, Sen. Bill Bradley introduced a bill that would have returned 1.3 million acres of the Black Hills to the Sioux nations. The return would not have resulted in the displacement, cultural cleansing, and extermination that the Lakota people experienced when they were forced off the land. The transfers would have involved mostly National Forest land.

Contrary to the Aberdeen American News' inane bravado, there are ways that part of the land could be returned. It is up to Congress. There are ways that some of the money could be made available and some of the land could be returned. It is a process of legislation and negotiation.

The reason many native people reject the money offered them is explained by Lakota journalist Tim Giago:

In the meantime, South Dakota's elected officials and the federal government itself believes that all claims to the land were extinguished when the money was awarded. In a way its like telling the Indians, "Here is money for your house and whether you want to sell it or not, here is the money and the house is now ours

Contrary to what the Aberdeen American News proclaims, the government can find a more satisfying solution than to tell the Indians "take the money, your culture has been exterminated, so learn how to be a honkey."

There are options for cultural survival and there are people willing to fight for those options. Our country has gained the courage to deny torture as a national policy. Now it can address the matters of genocide and cultural cleansing on its own lands.

It is up to Congress. Not the racist tradition of Aberdeen newspapers.

***Note: This statement is false. The government never "gave" the Black Hills to the Sioux. The Sioux already possessed it. The treaty agreed that the Sioux Nations and their allies should retain the Black Hlls as parties to a treaty between nations.


Douglas said...

No doubt Native Americans have gotten a bum deal, but it is time for them to reconcile themselves to the fact that they lost those wars..fairly or not. There is no future in a vain hope.

Incidentally, which tribe did the Sioux steal the Black Hills from to begin with?

And in the other areas of vain hope, there is no future in the White man's "firewater" or illegal and addicting drugs.

Tim Giago and the rest of the spokes people for the rights of Native Americans would be doing there people a lot more good by persuading them of healthy living and taking advantage of any opportunities available rather than continuing to stir the pot of racial identity politics...which is a dead end death spiral.

D.Large said...

I'am a African American and I have tremendous respect for the Native American people. My heart hurts for your people because I know they continue to suffer the effects of poverty on reservations. I respect your decision to reject compensation for land that was rightfully yours. I hope one day God will punish those responsible for shedding the innocent blood of your people.

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